Military courtroom dramas have always made for crackling good films. From THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL to CONDUCT UNBECOMING to BREAKER MORANT, viewers have always been engrossed by the workings of the court martial. So it is with MAN IN THE MIDDLE. It's WW II, and a large problem looms
between the British and American troops stationed in India. Wynn, an American lieutenant, shoots and kills Mitchell, a British staff sergeant, in front of nearly a dozen witnesses. Mitchum is asked by his general, Sullivan, to defend Wynn--supposedly sane and fit for trial. Then Mitchum learns
through nurse Nuyen (a member of the Lunacy Commission) that the head of the Commission, Knox, discounted the psychiatric evidence prepared by physician Wanamaker. Wanamaker has closely examined Wynn and believes him to be a psychopath who is not fit to stand trial. The British and the Americans
are at odds over this case, and Knox wants it all tied up neatly and quickly so that relations between the factions can be soldered. Mitchum asks Wanamaker to come to the trial and to bring along with him his report on Wynn's mental state. Knox, in an attempt to push the matter through, makes
certain that Wanamaker won't be there by having him shipped elsewhere. Mitchum now approaches a British psychiatrist-major, Howard, who also believes Wynn to be dangerously mentally ill, but Howard will not testify because he fears the wrath of Knox. Howard's theory is that Wynn had a motive for
murdering Mitchell. Although Wynn was an officer and Mitchell an NCO, both had exactly the same duties; Howard opines that Wynn saw himself as a victim and was determined at last to make someone else one. But when Mitchum interviews Wynn, he concludes that the man is a staunch bigot who killed
Mitchell because the man had been going out with a black woman. Wynn (marvelous in the role) feels that Mitchell was mixing the purity of the races by consorting with a black woman. This attitude prejudices Mitchum against his client, but the lawyer has a job to do and means to do it. Mitchum
realizes that Wynn is not sane, yet he conducts the trial as though Wynn is and saves his surprise witness, Wanamaker, for a last-minute appearance at the trial. Unfortunately Wanamaker is killed in an accident. Howard is called to testify and admits that none of the Lunacy Commission members can
be considered qualified judges of Wynn's mental state. During Mitchum's probing cross-examination of Howard, Wynn begins to rant wildly. The court is convinced of Wynn's insanity and sends him to a hospital rather than the gallows. Mitchum and Nuyen have a brief vacation together before he leaves.
The arguing factions are united, and the British and Americans prepare to go to battle side by side.
Music by OLIVER's Lionel Bart provided good background. Given the situation, there should have been more fireworks, but Mitchum's unemotional bearing prevailed, and the picture that might have been a powerhouse fizzles somewhat. There is still enough inherent drama to make the film worth watching,
but the incidental romance between Mitchum and Nuyen seems to have been pasted on as an afterthought.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Military courtroom dramas have always made for crackling good films. From THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL to CONDUCT UNBECOMING to BREAKER MORANT, viewers have always been engrossed by the workings of the court martial. So it is with MAN IN THE MIDDLE. It's… (more)